United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
(1) MIKE LEE CASTANON, and (2) ELITE OILFIELD SERVICES, LLC, Plaintiffs,
(1) KELLY CATHEY, an individual; (2) MIKE CORY, an individual; (3) RICHARD BICKLE, an individual; (4) DAVID MOORE, an individual; (5) DEBBIE SCHAUF, an individual; and (6) OKLAHOMA HORSE RACING COMMISSION, Defendants.
L. RUSSELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Trumpster, a quarter horse owned by Plaintiffs Mike Lee
Castanon and Elite Oilfield Services, LLC, galloped to
victory at the Remington Park Racetrack in Oklahoma City on
April 8, 2017. But after the win, Trumpster's
urine tested positive for trace amounts of Clenbuterol, a
therapeutic medication barred for use on quarter horses.
Citing this positive test, the Oklahoma Horse Racing
Commission and the Remington Park race Stewards-together, the
authorities overseeing and controlling horse racing-suspended
the license of Trumpster's trainer, Alfredo
Gomez, on April 21, 2017. One collateral consequence of
Gomez's suspension: another of Plaintiffs' horses,
EOS A Political Win, was scratched from a race on
April 22, 2017, even though the horse had no reported drug
violations. Plaintiffs claim that the actions of the
Commission and the Stewards- especially the scratching of
A Political Win-violated their rights. The movants
(all Defendants, save Debbie Schauf) disagree, and they ask
this Court to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims levied against
them. Having considered the parties' filings,
see Docs. 7, 9-10, the Court dismisses
Plaintiffs' federal claims, declines to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law
claims, and remands the remainder of the case to the District
Court of Oklahoma County.
Court takes as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in
the complaint, views them in the light most favorable to
Plaintiffs, and draws from them all reasonable inferences in
Plaintiffs' favor. See Burnett v. Mortg. Elec.
Registration Sys., Inc., 706 F.3d 1231, 1235 (10th Cir.
2013). This case deals with horse racing in Oklahoma, so the
Court will offer some legal context before it recites the
facts. Oklahoma horse racing is governed by the Oklahoma
Horse Racing Act (“Act”), 3A O.S. § 200
et seq., and attendant regulations. The Act creates
horse racing's governing body, the Oklahoma Horse Racing
Commission (“Commission”), see 3A O.S.
§ 201, which enjoys “plenary power to promulgate
rules and regulations for the forceful control of race
meetings” in Oklahoma. Id. § 203.7; Okla.
Admin. Code. § 325:1-1-3. These powers may also be
delegated to Stewards, who directly oversee races.
See 3A O.S. §§ 203.4, 204(B)(1); see
also Okla. Admin. Code § 325:20-1-3. The Commission
and Stewards, in exercising their broad powers, “may
suspend or revoke any occupation license” for
violations of statutory or regulatory provisions, or
“[a]ny other just cause as determined by the
Commission.” 3A O.S. § 204.2(D); see also
id. § 204.3(B) (granting the Commission or the
Stewards authority to “summarily suspend an occupation
license” at a race “pending further
proceedings”). And, regarding medication of race horses,
the Act prohibits “administration of any drug or
medication to a horse prior to or during a horse race”
unless permitted by rule. Id. § 208.11(C).
further explicate the Stewards' powers. “The
Stewards have general authority and supervision over all
licensees, ” “the power to interpret the rules
and to decide all questions not specifically covered by these
rules, ” and “the power to determine all
questions arising with reference to entries, eligibility and
racing.” Okla. Admin. Code § 325:20-1-8.
“The Stewards may . . . suspend . . . the occupation
license of any person whom they have the authority to
supervise, ” and they may also suspend a horse from
participating in races if the horse is involved with
“[a]ny violation of medication laws and rules” or
“[a]ny suspension . . . of an occupation license . . .
.” Id. § 325:1-1-7(a), (c)(2); see
also id. § 325:15-5-10(a) (noting Stewards may
suspend license for violations of “any provision of the
Oklahoma Horse Racing Act or of the Rules and Regulations of
the Commission, ” or for “any other valid ground
or reason”). Specifically, Stewards may suspend
trainers when the urine sample from a horse under their
supervision tests positive for banned drugs or medications.
See id. § 325:35-1-5(a) (“Should the
chemical analysis, urine or otherwise, taken from a
horse under his/her supervision show the presence of any drug
or medication . . . it shall be taken as prima facie evidence
that the same was administered by or with the knowledge of
the Trainer . . . . At the discretion of the Stewards . . .
the Trainer . . . may be . . . suspended . . . .”
(emphasis added)); id. § 325:45-1-6(j)
(“It shall be prima facie evidence that a horse had
been administered and carried a drug [or] medication . . .
prohibited by this Section while running a race if . . . a .
. . urine . . . sample or specimen from the horse was taken .
. . and . . . the Primary Laboratory detected a drug [or]
medication . . . prohibited by or in excess of
Commission-Sanctioned Threshold levels established by
Commission Directive [3A:205.2(H)]. . . . The Affidavit
submitted by the Primary Laboratory shall be supported by
urine and/or plasma/serum results.”); see also
Id. §§ 325:45-1-4, 325:45-1-5.
trainer is suspended or otherwise unavailable after a horse
has been entered in a race, it falls within the Stewards'
discretion whether to replace the trainer. See id.
§ 325:20-1-11(b) (“In the absence of the Trainer
of the horse, the Stewards may place the horse in the
temporary care of another Trainer of their selection . . .
.”); id. § 325:25-1-3 (“All entries
. . . are under the supervision of the Stewards . . . and
they, without notice, may refuse . . . the transfer of
entries.”); see also id. § 325:35-1-5
(designation of alternative trainer “shall be made
prior to time of entry, unless otherwise approved by the
Stewards”). Critically, a horse may not race unless it
is under the care of a trainer in good standing. See
id. § 325:25-1-10 (“[A] horse is ineligible
to start in any race if . . . the horse is in the care of an
unlicensed Trainer.”). “Any horse . . .
ineligible to start in any race which is entered . . . may be
scratched . . . .” Id. § 325:25-1-12.
suit's events take place within this context. Plaintiffs
are owners of two racing quarter horses, EOS
Trumpster (“Trumpster”) and EOS A
Political Win (“A Political Win”). Doc. 1-1,
at 7. The moving Defendants are (1) the Oklahoma Horse Racing
Commission; (2) Kelly Cathey, the executive director of the
Commission; (3) Mike Cory, the de facto Chief
Steward at Remington Park Racetrack; (4) Richard Bickle, a
race Steward; and (5) David Moore, a race Steward.
See Doc. 1-1, at 2-3. Plaintiffs entered Trumpster and
A Political Win in races at the Remington Park Racetrack in
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in April 2017, retaining Alfredo
Gomez, a Commission-licensed trainer and jockey, to care for
and ride the horses. Id. On April 8, 2017, Gomez,
riding Trumpster, won the seventh race at Remington Park;
following the win, Trumpster submitted to post-race blood and
urine testing. Id. Trumpster's testing samples
were analyzed by the Industrial Laboratories Company, under
contract with the Commission, on April 11, 2017.
Id. A final report was issued on April 20,
2017, which indicated that Trumpster's urine sample
contained a trace positive of Clenbuterol, “a federally
approved therapeutic medication . . . . widely utilized . . .
for active horses.” Id. at 7-8. But under
Oklahoma law, Clenbuterol use is banned in quarter horses,
such as Trumpster. Following the final report, the
Commission, through Defendant Cory, “telephonically
pronounced a summary suspension” of Gomez. Id.
at 8. Gomez's occupation license was formally suspended
by the Commission the next day-April 21, 2017-which caused
all horses entered by Gomez to be scratched from upcoming
races. Id. One of the scratched horses, A Political
Win, had no reported positive drug tests, and was the
“5/2 morning line favorite to win the Remington Park
Futurity . . . scheduled . . . on April 22, 2017.”
Id. at 9. Plaintiffs made an emergency request for a
stay of the Stewards' ruling, but the Commission's
executive director, Defendant Cathey, denied the request.
Moreover, the Commission and the Stewards refused
Plaintiffs' request to transfer A Political Win to
another trainer so that the horse could race. Id.
assert procedural and substantive due process claims under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Cathey, Cory, Bickle,
and Moore, and a negligence claim under the Oklahoma
Governmental Tort Claims Act against the Commission.
See Doc. 1-1, at 10- 16; see also Doc.
Defendants move to dismiss these claims.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss
“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P.
8(a)(2) (“A pleading that states a claim for relief
must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . .
.”). While a complaint “need only give the
defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds
upon which it rests, ” Khalik v. United Air
Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1191-92 (10th Cir. 2012)
(ellipsis, internal quotation marks, and citations omitted),
“[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Thus,
the mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could
prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is
insufficient; the complainant must give the court reason to
believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of
mustering factual support for these claims.” Ridge
at Red Hawk, L.L.C. v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177
(10th Cir. 2007) (emphasis omitted). When assessing a
complaint's sufficiency, “courts must consider the
complaint in its entirety, as well as other sources courts
ordinarily examine when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to
dismiss, in particular, documents incorporated into the
complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take
judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues
& Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007) (citing 5B
Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal
Practice and Procedure § 1357 (3d ed. 2004 and
assert federal claims against Defendants Cathey, Cory,
Bickle, and Moore-the individual Defendants-and state law
claims against the Commission. See generally Doc.
1-1. The individual Defendants raise the defense of qualified
immunity, which shields public officials sued in their
individual capacities “from undue interference with
their duties and from potentially disabling threats of
liability.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S.
800, 806 (1982). When this defense is raised, officials enjoy
a presumption of immunity-as such immunity is “the norm
in private actions against public officials.” Pahls
v. Thomas, 718 F.3d 1210, 1227 (10th Cir. 2013)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see
also Apodaca v. Raemisch, 864 F.3d 1071, 1076 (10th Cir.
2017) (“[Q]ualified immunity protects all officials
except those who are plainly incompetent or those who
knowingly violate the law.” (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted)); Lewis v. Tripp, 604 F.3d
1221, 1230 (10th Cir. 2010) (“If qualified immunity is
to mean anything, it must mean that public employees who are
just doing their jobs are generally immune from
suit.”). “A plaintiff can overcome this
presumption of immunity only by carrying the heavy burden of
showing both that (1) the defendant-officer in question
violated one of his [statutory or] constitutional rights, and
(2) the infringed right at issue was clearly established at
the time of the allegedly unlawful activity . . . .”
Kerns v. Bader, 663 F.3d 1173, 1180 (10th Cir. 2011)
(citations omitted). The Court, in its discretion, may decide
which prong of the qualified immunity analysis it will
address first, see Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S.
223, 236 (2009), but addressing “the first qualified
immunity [prong] before proceeding to the second . . . .
should be the exception, not the rule, ” as
constitutional avoidance considerations generally counsel in
favor of “proceed[ing] directly to, . . . address[ing]
only, and . . . deny[ing] relief exclusively based on”
whether a right was clearly established. Kerns, 663
F.3d at 1181; see also Camreta v. Greene, 563 U.S.
692, 705 (2011) (“If prior case law has not clearly
settled the right, and so given officials fair notice of it,
the court can simply dismiss the claim for money damages. . .
. And indeed, our usual adjudicatory rules suggest that a
court should forbear resolving this issue.”
is clearly established when a reasonable official would have
understood that what he or she was doing violated that right.
See Estate of Reat v. Rodriguez, 824 F.3d 960,
964-65 (10th Cir. 2016). Plaintiffs must identify clearly
established law that would have notified Defendants that
their actions were unlawful. See Washington v. Unified
Gov't of Wyandotte Cty., 847 F.3d 1192, 1202 n.3
(10th Cir. 2017). Plaintiffs may show the law to be
“clearly established” by citing an on-point
Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit decision; alternatively,
“the clearly established weight of authority from other
courts must have found the law to be as . . . [P]laintiff[s]
maintain.” Grissom v. Roberts, 902 F.3d
1162, 1168 (10th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). An “on-point decision” means
that the precedent is “particularized to the
facts”-that it “involves materially similar
facts” to the case at hand. Apodaca, 864 F.3d
at 1076 (10th Cir. 2017); see also Mullenix v. Luna,
136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (“The dispositive question is
whether the violative nature of particular conduct is clearly
established. This inquiry must be undertaken in light of the
specific context of the case, not as a broad general
proposition.” (emphasis, internal quotation marks, and
citations omitted)). In other words, on-point precedent
cannot define a right at “a high level of generality,
” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 742
(2011); otherwise, “Plaintiffs would be able to convert
the rule of qualified immunity . . . into a rule of virtually
unqualified liability simply by alleging violation of
extremely abstract rights.” White v. Pauly,
137 S.Ct. 548, 552 (2017) (ellipsis original) (alterations,
brackets, internal quotation marks, and citation omitted).
Rather, “existing precedent must have placed the
statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.”
Kisela v. Hughes, 138 S.Ct. 1148, 1152 (2018)
(internal quotation marks and citation
Procedural Due Process
first claim that the individual Defendants deprived them of
due process when infringing on their protected interests.
Doc. 1-1, at 10-12. “The requirements of procedural due
process apply only to the deprivation of interests
encompassed by the Fourteenth Amendment's protection of
liberty and property.” Bd. of Regents of State
Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 569 (1972). Thus,
“[t]o assess whether an individual was denied
procedural due process, courts must engage in a two-step
inquiry: (1) did the individual possess a protected interest
such that the due process protections were applicable; and,
if so, then (2) was the individual afforded an appropriate
level of process.” Merrifield v. Bd. of Cty.
Comm'rs for Cty. of Santa Fe, 654 F.3d 1073, 1078
(10th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citation
interests can either arise from the Constitution or be
created by state law.” Cordova v. City of
Albuquerque, 816 F.3d 645, 656-57 (10th Cir. 2016).
“For state law to create a liberty interest, it must
establish substantive predicates to govern official
decisionmaking and mandate an outcome when relevant criteria
have been met.” Elwell v. Byers, 699 F.3d
1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2012). “If state law establishes
a substantive predicate without mandating an outcome, the law
creates nothing more than a right to process which is not a
constitutionally cognizable liberty interest.” PJ
ex rel. Jensen v. Wagner, 603 F.3d 1182, 1200 (10th Cir.
2010); see also Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238,
249 (1983) (“If the decisionmaker is not required to
base its decisions on objective and defined criteria, but
instead can deny the requested relief for any
constitutionally permissible reason or for no reason at all,
the State has not created a constitutionally protected